Friday, May 27, 2011

May Daring Bakers' Challenge - Marquise on Meringue

Every month I tell myself that I will type up my challenge posts as soon as I am done making the challenge. Or, you know, very shortly thereafter. And yet here I am again, just like every month, the night before the posting date, typing up my post.

The May 2011 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Emma of CookCraftGrow and Jenny of Purple House Dirt. They chose to challenge everyone to make a Chocolate Marquise. The inspiration for this recipe comes from a dessert they prepared at a restaurant in Seattle.

This challenge was actually quite a doozy - both Emma and Jenny are professionals, having met in pastry school and worked in fancy restaurants, and the challenge that they selected definitely intimidated more than a few of us daring bakers. But, in addition to being professional pastry chefs, Jenny and Emma are also really cool people who were able to explain each step of the multi-step dessert in such a way that allowed us all to feel like, well, real pastry chefs!

This was a long one, and this post will rely mostly on the photos to tell the tale, so it might be a little different from my usual posts, but sit back and enjoy the creation of this amazing dessert.

Marquise on meringue, as the dessert is called, has two main components - the marquise and the meringue. As the name suggests. The marquise, which I had never even heard of, is a frozen mousse type of dessert, which takes a little bit of time and quite a few steps to prepare, but which is absolutely delicious.

It starts with chocolate base, which, of course, starts with chocolate. The purer the better. Our hostesses recommended no less than 70% cacao. I found 100%.

Warmed heavy cream is poured over the chocolate to melt it, then it is combined with corn syrup, cocoa powder, spices and some butter.

The whole thing is then mixed together to make a smooth chocolate base to flavor the marquise (mousse).

Yes, I realize that I said smooth and that this photo makes it look anything but... I really thought I'd messed something up... but it actually felt completely smooth, despite how it looked... so I just set it aside and hoped for the best...

Chocolate base done, it was time to make the other components of the marquise. It began with eggs. Many eggs. Half a batch of the recipe called for 6 egg yolks and two whole eggs, which went into the mixer.

After many minutes, the eggs turned very light and fluffy, like this:

While the eggs were beating, I was preparing a simple syrup on the stove, using little more than sugar, water and my trusty candy thermometer.

The syrup was then poured into the still-beating eggs, and the KitchenAid continued its workout, whipping the whole mixture together for another ten minutes or so.

Chocolate base complete, eggs/syrup mixture whipping, it was time to prepare the last component of the marquise - whipped cream. I am very lucky to have received the coolest gift ever for Christmas this past year, which actually allowed me to whip the cream while my stand mixer was otherwise engaged - an immersion blender with a whisk attachment. It actually has other fun tools, too, but in this case, the whisk attachment allowed me to whip cream in a separate bowl while the KitchenAid did its thing. Which was awesome.

And now all of the components for the marquise were ready.

The chocolate was mixed in with the egg mixture.

(*phew* - the chocolate totally smoothed out!)

Then the whipped cream was carefully folded in.

At this point, the marquise is ready to be spread into a parchment lined pan and frozen. Also at this point, the four and a half month old baby has had enough of being patient while mama played in the kitchen and demanded my full attention. Requiring me to leave my sink looking like this:

Oh well.

The next morning was Sunday, Mother's Day, and I set ahead preparing the other components of the dessert so that I could bring everything over to my in-laws' house as a special dessert for our Mother's Day dinner.

I mentioned above that the two main components of the dessert are the marquise and the meringue. There were also two other make-ahead components that are plated with the dessert - spiced nuts and caramel sauce.

The spiced nuts were surprisingly easy to make. Nuts (the recipe called for almonds, little miss requested pecans, so I used both) were tossed in a mixture of beaten egg white, sugar and spices - cinnamon and a sprinkle of cayenne pepper is what I chose.

The nuts are then turned out onto a baking sheet and baked for about 30 minutes.

While it looked a bit odd coming out of the oven, they tasted fantastic. Note for future reference, though - pecans cook faster than almonds. Next time, cook them separately.

Next I tackled the caramel sauce. The recipe provided my Emma and Jenny was for a tequila caramel sauce, which sounded so decadent. I, however, do not have tequila in the house. And I generally don't cook with alcohol, either, between pregnancy, nursing, and having young kids in the house. So I chose to make a cinnamon caramel sauce instead.

Once again, some sugar, some water and the trusty candy thermometer. Add some cinnamon and some heavy cream, and voila!

The final element that I needed to prepare in order to be prepared to actually serve this dessert after dinner that night was the meringue. I have made meringue before, but the recipe called for a different style of meringue than I usually make. In this version, egg whites (left over from all of those yolks used in the marquise) and sugar are heated double boiler style over simmering water until the sugar is totally incorporated and the egg whites are warmed through. While being mixed by hand.

Slimy. But fun

The egg whites are then whipped to stiff peaks.

At this point, I was ready to pack up the frozen marquise, the spiced nuts, the caramel sauce and prepared meringue and head over to the in-laws' for dinner.

After dinner, it was finally time to combine all of the elements.

We removed the marquise from the freezer a few minutes before we were ready to begin plating everything, then cut it into individual sized portions.

The meringue was then spooned onto a baking tray.

The recipe calls for the meringue to be torched, but I don't have a torch, nor do the in-laws, so we stuck it under the broiler. Unfortunately, me being totally nervous preparing this dessert in front of an audience and trying to make sure not to forget any of the components (and not realizing quite how strong my in-laws' broiler is!), the meringue got a bit scorched.


The squares of marquise were rolled in cocoa powder (I did a combination of powdered sugar and cocoa powder), placed onto the (blackened) meringue pillows, then the plate was decorated with the caramel sauce and spiced nuts.

Holy yumminess. Even the scorched meringue was delicious. Everyone was super impressed, both by the look and taste of this dessert. The flavors and textures went together so well, and made for a totally amazing and completely impressive dessert.

And the leftover marquise has sat in the freezer ever since, and makes a super yummy dessert, even just with some whipped cream. Or some more of that caramel sauce. Or both.

Emma and Jenny, I cannot thank you enough for this amazing challenge. You really brought out the best in all of us this month, and I am so impressed with myself for having actually made a fancy-restaurant caliber dessert!

I highly recommend taking a look at the impressive and beautiful work of the other daring bakers on this challenge. You can check them out here.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Cheddar Bay Biscuits

This weekend, we made a to-do list of all of the things we either needed or wanted to accomplish. Daddy wrote the list. On it were things like "go through outgrown baby clothes" and "get haircuts." But when I looked at the list that Daddy had written, there was something totally unexpected on it. "Cheddar bay biscuits." Never one to miss a beat, I replied with "Um, would you like for me to make some cheddar bay biscuits this weekend?" I am sure you can guess the answer.

So off we went, googling different recipes to find one that looked scrumptious. Of course they all did. Daddy chose this one, which is the one I would have chosen too, because her blog is pretty awesome.

The only problem was that this recipe (as well as most of the ones that we had short-listed) called for Bisquick. Which is something I don't tend to keep in the house. I think I have bought it once. I found it pretty unnecessary, to be honest, and never thought about it again. Until now. I wasn't really too jazzed about the idea of buying it just for this recipe, so I did what I always do - I looked online for a substitute. Bisquick is basically a pre-prepared biscuit mix containing flour, baking powder, salt and some kind of fat (oil/butter - whatever they use to make it shelf-stable). I found several recipes but settled on this one, as the ingredient list was short and the reviews were good.

While we didn't get to make these over the weekend, I did make them yesterday, and it was quite an interesting process. Making the "Bisquick" was quite simple, and was quickly accomplished while little miss was at school. I measured the dry ingredients into a bowl and whisked them together.

I then took a quick second to give a couple smooches to these:

(side note - do you have any idea how hard it is to take a picture of a baby's feet? Seriously, they don't hold still. At all. Holy smokes, that was an adventure! Ahem... back to the cooking...)

Dry ingredients combined, it was time to incorporate the fat - butter. The recipe calls for cold butter to be cut in with a pastry cutter. Or two knives. But I used my favorite new trick - grating the cold butter and simply working it in with my fingertips (yes, they were washed after smooching on those baby toes). Grating the butter makes it so easy, as the pieces are then practically the size you need them for the recipe. I love this trick.

Anyway, once the butter is incorporated, you are done! The mixture can actually be stored in the refrigerator for up to 4 months. So I just put mine into a gallon sized zip top bag, labeled it (including the date), and viola! Instant "Bisquick"!

Later in the afternoon, closer to dinner, it was time for the actual biscuits. Again, very short ingredient list, which is something I like. To the prepared biscuit mix, all that was added was butter, grated cheese, garlic powder and milk. I actually had a little bit of heavy cream left in the fridge, not really enough for anything else, so I used that in addition to some milk to make the 3/4 cup required by the recipe. The mixture is mixed by hand, and then came the fun part. And I am being a bit sarcastic here.

The recipe says to form quarter cup scoops of the mixture into biscuits and place them on a baking sheet. What the recipe didn't tell me was quite how crumbly the mixture would be. Which makes it very difficult to neatly shape biscuits. As you can see, despite my best efforts, my biscuits were a tad bit crumbly. I didn't want to overwork the dough (I wanted them to be flaky!), bit these shapes did require quite a bit of squishing to hold. I figured that once baked, the butter and cheddar cheese would really hold them together, so I just did the best I could.

While the biscuits bake, there is one more step - preparing an herbed butter topping. Melted butter, garlic powder and parsley were mixed together, then brushed onto the tops of the fresh-out-of-the-oven biscuits.

These made such a yummy side dish, and Daddy said that they were exactly what he'd been hoping for. Me? I had never had cheddar bay biscuits before, so had no idea what to expect. I was surprised, I will admit, that something called "cheddar BAY biscuits" did not call for Old Bay seasoning (most of the recipes I saw for these didn't!), but I didn't miss it at all, and really enjoyed them. Even little miss, who always needs a bit of convincing where cheese is concerned, loved them.

So score one for a delicious new recipe, and for another item successfully crossed off the weekend to-do list!

Homemade Bisquick Substitute

6 cups all purpose flour, sifted
3 tablespoons baking powder
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 cup cold butter

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Using a pastry cutter, two knives, or even your fingers, cut the butter into the dry ingredients until thoroughly incorporated.
The mixture can be stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to four months.
Use in any recipe calling for Bisquick!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

May Daring Cooks' Challenge - Gumbo

As I have mentioned, I anxiously await the announcement each month as to what the Daring Kitchen will challenge us to do next. This month had all of us Daring Cooks on the edges of our seats as we waited for the news. Our hostess promised us that the post was coming, that it was just taking a while to upload. Which had us all even more excited. And when the post finally went up, we knew that it had been worth the wait.

Our May hostess, Denise, of There's a Newf in My Soup!, challenged the Daring Cooks to make Gumbo! She provided us with all the recipes we'd need, from creole spices, homemade stock, and Louisiana white rice, to Drew's Chicken & Smoked Sausage Gumbo and Seafood Gumbo from My New Orleans: The Cookbook, by John Besh.

I have never had gumbo, nor do I know all that much about Creole cuisine, but we love our own version of jambalaya in this house, and I can honestly say that I have wanted to try my hand at more Creole cooking for a while. How perfect! I chose to follow the recipe for chicken and sausage gumbo as presented by Denise, because it looked like a delicious introduction into traditional gumbos.

While there are many different recipes for gumbo, varying from all varieties of meat to vegetarian and everywhere in between, there are a couple of things that are necessary in order to call the dish a "real" gumbo. The two vital components are the roux and the "Holy Trinity" of vegetables.

I'll talk about the vegetables first, since they were the first thing I tackled for this challenge. The "Holy Trinity" of vegetables in Creole cooking are onions, green peppers and celery. Very similar to mirepoix (onions, carrots and celery), but with a decidedly Creole twist. The vegetables are diced, and need to be ready to go once the cooking gets underway, so I knew that I would need time, and that I would have to tackle the chopping first. So I knew I would be making the gumbo on a weekend, when Daddy could wrangle the kiddos for a while, since chopping tons of veggies and keeping a close eye on two kids are two activities not fun to try to accomplish simultaneously. The recipe also called for a chopped tomato and some minced garlic cloves, so lets just say that my knife skills got a bit of practice on this one.

Holy Trinity and other vegetables prepared, it was time to tackle vital component number two.

The roux. A roux is a cooked mixture of flour and some variety of fat (oil, rendered fat, butter...) that is traditionally used as a thickening agent. In gumbo, the roux is more than a thickener, it is part of what gives the gumbo its flavor. I have made rouxs before, using equal parts butter and flour, when making cream sauces or cheese sauces, but the roux for the gumbo was very different. The butter-based rouxs are always white, and cook very quickly. For gumbo, the darker the roux, the deeper the flavor. And to attain a dark roux, well, that takes time. And a lot of whisking. And definitely does not use butter. I used canola oil, and then worked at my roux for about half an hour. Yes, half an hour of constant, vigilant attention and whisking. Which you would think would be annoying, but was actually quite fascinating. The roux slowly cooked from white to caramel to chocolate brown.

My camera, with the lighting in the kitchen, didn't accurately capture the final color of the roux in the pot, but it definitely reached the color of a chocolate bar, which is when I knew it was time to get down to the nitty gritty of the gumbo.

First, the onions were added to the roux. Oh. My. Goodness. The smell as soon as the onions hit the pot was amazing. And the roux continued to darken as the onions cooked. Next into the pot went the chicken pieces, which were seasoned with Creole seasoning. While I am not usually a fan of posting pictures of uncooked meat, I thought this picture gave a much better idea as to just how dark the roux got. I only wish it could accurately depict how wonderful it smelled at this point, too.

Anyway, following the recipe that Denise provided, I then added, each in its turn, the sausage, remaining vegetables, chicken stock and spices (well, bay leaves, really), cooking and stirring each addition as it went in. Then it was time to let the gumbo simmer, and do just a bit more chopping.

Yes, more chopping. And this one was even more interesting. One more vegetable traditionally used in gumbo, and, interestingly enough, also used as a thickener, is okra. I have never had okra before, but have always wanted to try it. I was a little nervous, as people generally either love okra or hate it. I have never heard a middle ground on it. And those that hate it, well, they make it sound a little scary. The word I saw most commonly was "slimy." And slicing the okra, I kinda knew what they meant - it definitely had a sticky/slimy aspect to it as I sliced it up, but I loved the star shapes it made, so didn't worry too much.

After the gumbo had simmered for about 45 minutes, I added the okra and Worcestershire sauce, then allowed the whole thing to simmer once again until it was dinner time.

When Daddy brought the kids back into the house, both he and little miss immediately remarked about how good the house smelled, and they rushed to wash up for dinner.

And I have to say, it absolutely did not disappoint. I had actually worried as to whether or not little miss would like the gumbo, so had separately cooked some chicken so that she would have some dinner if she didn't like it. I needn't have gone to the trouble. She ate it up, telling me how delicious it was with each bite. And Daddy and I each went back for seconds. It was that good. I still can't say that I could tell you what okra tastes like, having only had it as part of this recipe, but I can tell you that it was not slimy at all, and it still looked really cool, with its star shapes still in tact.

The recipe made a huge pot full of the delicious gumbo, so we put some in the freezer to have at a later date, and then proceeded to devour the leftovers over the next several days.

Denise, thank you so much for this awesome challenge. I can't wait to try many different versions of gumbo, all thanks to this first experience. You really set a high standard for hosting, and I really appreciate your enthusiasm and encouragement throughout this month!

To check out some of the other mouth watering gumbos cooked up this month, check them out here.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Cinco de Mayo Fiesta

Happy Cinco de Mayo!

To be completely honest, I really don't know all that much about Cinco de Mayo. I mean, I know it is about Mexican heritage, and commemorates a Mexican victory against the French, but honestly, my Mexican history is not really that strong. What I do know about Cinco de Mayo, though, is that it is a great excuse to eat Mexican food. Not that I really need an excuse, but hey.

Last year for Cinco de Mayo, I tried my hand at tres leches cake. Yum, that was super tasty. This year, I wanted to try something different. Just because. And I wanted to celebrate with an entire meal, not just with dessert.

So for dinner tonight, I made enchiladas. Not that there is anything overly special about enchiladas, but I honestly almost never make them, usually opting for fajitas or tacos - something more "I'll make the components, everyone can build them themselves" style. And, in full celebration style, I decided to try my hand at making my own enchilada sauce. I used this recipe from one of my favorite food bloggers. Seriously, I have made so many things from her site and she has never ever let me down. The only change I made was that I omitted the green chilies. Then the blender did all of the work for me. Once all of the ingredients were blended together, then simmered for a while, it was time to tackle dessert.

I found several recipes for Mexican chocolate cake and knew that that was what I wanted to try this year. I settled on this recipe, since it looked pretty simple and had received good reviews overall. It was definitely interesting, watching this cake come together. For starters, when all of the dry ingredients were mixed together, the sugar was mixed in with them. Yes, sugar is dry, but in most recipes, it is treated as a wet ingredient. Secondly, in most cake recipes, there is usually about twice as much flour as sugar. This one had equal parts flour and sugar. Thirdly, it uses both butter and oil, rather than just one type of fat. Very interesting. But what makes it "Mexican," as far as I understand, is the combination of chocolate and cinnamon. Which is a super yummy combination. So, despite all of the little oddities of the recipe, I persevered.

The cake actually took longer to bake than I had expected - one commenter had indicated that, if baking the cake in two round pans (which is what I wanted to do), to cut the baking time to 22 minutes. Mine took closer to 28 minutes to bake completely, and, even at that, did not turn out of the pans all that cleanly, but they smelled wonderful and looked moist and delicious, so I wasn't too worried.

I made the pour-over frosting detailed in one of the comments, a simple combination of butter, milk, cocoa and confectioners sugar, which is heated together, mixed up, then poured on top of the cake. I added a few shakes of cinnamon to the frosting, too, to mirror the flavor of the cake. I have to say... once I poured on the frosting, it was very hard to wait for dinner.

So, in addition to the enchiladas, to round out our fiesta, I also made rice and beans (I know, more Puerto Rican than Mexican, but hey...) and homemade guacamole, served with tortilla chips. The enchiladas were delicious, and the meal was a lot of fun. Little miss kept wishing us a happy Cinco de Mayo and asking us "is this a fiesta??" And, of course, loading up chips with guacamole.

As for the cake? It was very, very sweet. The flavor combination of the chocolate and the cinnamon was really delicious, and little miss and my sister in law, who joined us for the fiesta, loved it. I was pleasantly surprised with the light yet moist texture of the cake itself, but I have to say - a little piece is plenty for a cake this sweet. I am not complaining - it was definitely delicious. Just very sweet.

Here's hoping that all of you had a fun and delicious Cinco de Mayo, too!

Mexican Chocolate Cake
(from Allrecipes)

2 cups flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 cups white sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup margarine, softened (I used butter)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup water
1/2 cup sour milk
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease and flour a 12" x 18" cake pan (or two 8" round cake pans).
In a large bowl, mix together the flour, cocoa, sugar, baking soda and cinnamon. Add the margarine (butter), vegetable oil, water, sour milk, eggs and vanilla. Mix until smooth. Spread evenly in pan(s).
Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 25-30 minutes. Allow to cool.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Playdate Fare - Peanut Butter and Jelly Swirl Blondies

One of the online food blogging communities that I joined sends me a daily update in my e-mail. I still haven't figured out all of the different rules for all of the different food blogging communities, but each day, this one sends me an e-mail with pictures of some of the top photos of some of "the best" foods from the thousands of member blogs. I am not sure if there is a bot that trolls for them, a person who goes through them, a place for members to submit their photos... As I said, I haven't figured out all of the rules. I will one day. Just not today.

Anyway, one of the photos from yesterday's e-mail immediately caught my eye. I clicked through to read the recipe, and immediately added them to the list of things wanted to try. Blondies are sometimes referred to as brownies without the chocolate, but I think of them as more like cookie-bars. And these particular blondies were swirled with peanut butter and jelly - looked like something that might be a fun snack for kids. As luck would have it, also in my inbox was an invitation to a friend's play-group get together at a local park. Talk about good timing!

This morning, with little man strapped to me in the moby wrap (that thing comes in SO handy!), little miss and I got down to work. The recipe is actually super easy, and is a lot of fun to put together. While I beat together the wet ingredients in the mixer, little miss set to whisking the dry ingredients. The two were then combined to make a pretty thick, cookie-like dough. As I said - blondies=cookie bar. I spread the batter into my brownie pan, and then came time for the fun part.

With clean hands, little miss and I dropped teaspoons full of peanut butter and jelly onto the surface of the batter. Little miss helped me create a three-by-three pattern, alternating peanut butter and jelly to ensure a good distribution of both spreads throughout our snack. Then I used a dull knife to swirl the peanut butter and jelly through the batter. Since the batter was so thick and the jelly so... well, jelled, it was a little tough to make really neat swirls, but with a little patience, we were soon ready to pop the pan into the oven.

I know I say this a lot, but these smelled so good as they baked.

Once the timer beeped, we were pretty excited to see how they would look. From the top, you could kind of see some of the jelly swirl, but we had to wait until they cooled to actually cut into them and see how we did.

And, as it turns out, I think we did pretty well! They were a little flatter than I'd expected, but that is probably because my brownie pan is 9" x 9", rather than 8" x 8" as the recipe indicates. But that had nothing to do with the taste, which was really great - the gooey-ness of brownies (or, you know, really gooey cookies) with the yumminess and total kid-friendliness of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich!

Now, as it turns out, our play group turned into a playdate, with little miss's friend joining us for some crafting and outside play at our house, but the blondies went over really well, with both girls "sneaking" extra pieces throughout the afternoon. Which I took as a positive review. Little miss told me "Mom, you can make these any day. Actually, you can make them every day!" So I'd say these were a hit, and we will definitely be making them again.

Peanut Butter and Jelly Swirl Blondies

1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 egg, at room temperature
2 1/2 tablespoons peanut butter (creamy is what I used, but crunchy could probably work)
2 tablespoons jam (I used strawberry preserves)

Sift the flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda into a bowl. Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix together the melted butter, brown sugar and vanilla. When well combined, beat in the egg.
With the mixer on low speed, slowly add in the dry ingredients until mostly combined. Complete the mixing by hand, with a spatula, folding the mixture together until everything is incorporated.
Spread the batter into a lightly greased 8" x 8" pan.
Place 1/2 tablespoons of peanut butter and 1/2 tablespoons of jam on top of the blondies in an alternating 3 x 3 pattern - starting with the first row down, place one drop of peanut butter, then one of jam, then one of peanut butter. For the second row, start with jam, then peanut butter, then jam. For the last row, repeat the first row.
Using a blunt knife, swirl the peanut butter and jam throughout the blondie batter.
Bake for 25 minutes. Allow the pan to cool on a cooling rack before cutting the blondies into pieces.
Then I dare you to not eat the whole thing at once... :)

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